The Tom Stillman Era Begins

Kevin Lorenz, Wed, 09 May 2012 23:54:00 GMT

It took close to two years and felt much longer, but the ownership saga has ended for the St. Louis Blues. Tom Stillman, who had been a minority owner in the Dave Checketts ownership group, has bought the team with the backing of a new ownership group. His purchase coincides with a new era in Blues hockey on the ice as the seven-year rebuilding plan (it was supposed to be seven years, right?) entered the Stage Two, playoff contention.

There will be changes. The days of super small budgets and complete inability to make roster upgrades during the offseason and trading deadlines will yield to low budgets and reasonable improvements to the NHL roster. The Blues will not throw $9 million at free agents each summer, but it can be inferred that Doug Armstrong will be allowed to be creative in moves and potentially add payroll at opportune times. At this season’s trade deadline and leading into the playoffs, the Blues could have used some reinforcements or upgrades to the roster.

The best Armstrong could do was signing Jaden Schwartz and burning a year of his entry-level contract to fill some injury holes in the top six. This summer, depending on how the roster shakes out, and the potential arrival of Vladimir Tarasenko, the numbers forecast a potential trade. Doug Armstrong has been shrewd in deals so far, his record including Lars Eller and Ian Schultz for Jaroslav Halak, Erik Johnson and a first (plus Jay McClemment) for Chris Stewart Kevin Shattenkirk and a second, and Nikita Nikitin for Kris Russell. One thing that stands out is Armstrong’s willingness to trade touted pieces for immediate and long-term upgrades. This is not a prediction, as much as it is an observation, but it is something to keep in mind going into the summer.

Another less talked about asset that Doug Armstrong has is his collection of draft picks, including an extra third round pick (Anaheim’s) from last year’s Brad Winchester trade. The Blues will pick at the bottom of the first round, not exactly a location where they can expect to find a player that helps them immediately. A rebuilding team on the other hand would find say a 26th overall pick valuable (sound familiar Blues fans?) Once again, not a prediction, instead this is just an observation.

The Blues are in a position where a timely upgrade could put them over the top. As they cleaned out their lockers on Tuesday afternoon they reiterated the belief that this season wasn’t a fluke and that they were, as the standings suggested, the second best team in the Western Conference. Vladimir Tarasenko could be that upgrade (it’s as, or more likely that it takes him a while to acclimate to North America, and the NHL and doesn’t make an immediate upgrade), or a creative trade could lead to that one piece that puts the Blues into cup contention.

Tom Stillman’s presence as owner makes that discussion possible again. The years of excitement over low-hanging fruit and dumpster diving from the KHL (and subsequently losing those œgems� to the waiver process) may be over. As the Blues enter a new era on the ice, they do it with a new owner off the ice. The marriage couldn’t come at a better time.